You first met Dimebag at the Castle Donington Monsters of Rock festival in 1994, right?
Yeah, I first met Dime at Donington. The headliners were Pantera, then Extreme, and then Aerosmith. I was goofing on [Extreme guitarist] Nuno [Bettencourt] like, “Are you gonna be doing the death-metal version of ‘More Than Words’ today?” We were cracking up!
Pantera’s live show was unrivaled — the sheer power that came off the stage was so ridiculously mind-blowing, it was actually funny! It’s like you hear people talking about seeing Van Halen back in the day — like ’78 or ’79 — or Led Zeppelin at the Fillmore when they first came out. It was ridiculous, like, “Oh my God!!!” You knew that you were witnessing history, that these guys were special. The sheer power coming off the stage, and the musicianship, too. It was like Van Halen on steroids.
How would you describe Dime as a person?
If he didn’t play guitar, he’d still be one of your best friends, just because he was a sweet guy. He genuinely loved life: He was like Blutarsky in Animal House; you could just be having the most crap day, and then Dime would walk into the room and the party would begin! [Laughs.] He was always like, “I ain’t got time to be depressed — let’s have a good time!” He was like the Rat Pack all in one guy — he was Dean, Frank, Sammy, the whole Rat Pack in one human being! [Laughs.]
Was there any difference between the Dimebag you saw onstage and the Dimebag you knew as a pal?
None. The clothes he put on when he woke up were the clothes he went onstage with. [Laughs.] Why bother changing? That just cuts into time at the bar!
What was it about Dimebag’s playing that set him apart?
I always say that Pantera were the Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath of that genre of music — the Beatles and Stones of that music. It’s not even an argument! You have great bands and then you have bands that changed the game. All the bands that have come after — like Meshuggah or Lamb of God — the template for it is Pantera. Production-wise, you can use those Pantera records as a Model-T Ford for extreme metal.
Where were you when Dime was killed?
I was at home, working out in the garage and hanging out. Rita called. It was mind-blowing, man. Of all people, how could this happen to him, you know? Dime was just the most loving, caring, good guy on the planet.
It was like the metal world’s John Lennon — everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news.
Without a doubt. It is crazy to think that it happened 24 years to the day as John Lennon. I can’t believe it’s already 10 years. People have been saying to me, “Zakk, it’s been 10 years — are you doing anything special to mark the occasion?” And I’m like, “We celebrate Dime every night!” And at every Black Label gig, you see Dimebag T-shirts all over the place, just like you’ll always see Ozzy stuff there and Randy Rhoads stuff. Dime’s always there.
What do you remember about his funeral?
It was a beautiful thing, because everybody there loved Dime. Dime had Eddie [Van Halen’s] black-and-yellow guitar and tons of bottles of Crown [Royal] in his KISS Koffin. Everybody was obviously bummed out, but they tried to keep the spirit light and celebrate Dime, even though we were all bummed because it sucked that we were never going to see him again. I remember just cracking up with [Down guitarist] Pepper Keenan, like, “Pepper, you think there’s enough Crown in there to get him up to God’s tavern?” [Laughs.] And all the stories everybody else had — everybody had all these ridiculous stories about him!
How did you deal with Dime’s death?
Rita [Haney, Abbott’s longtime companion] actually came out on the road with us for awhile. She was like, “I don’t want to be home — is there something I can do on the road with you?” It was great having her out on the road with us. That kind of helped us both. And we were doing [Dimebag tribute] “In This River” every night, and there was always this outpouring of love for Dimebag at every show.
It’s been said that Dimebag’s murder killed metal — or that metal hasn’t fully recovered from his death.
C’mon, man. Who the fuck would say that? That would be like saying, “When Jimi Hendrix passed away, that’s the day rock guitar died.” Tell Led Zeppelin or Van Halen or Guns N’ Roses that, and tell their fucking accountants that, as well! Rock guitar died with Jimi? Take the first two Van Halen albums and shove ‘em up your ass! [Laughs.]
That’s like saying, “The day that Walter Payton retired from the NFL, that’s the day rushing in football ceased to exist.” Or, here’s another one — “The day Babe Ruth retired is the day the Yankees should have stopped playing.” [Laughs.] We could go on. “The day Elvis went into the army, that’s the day rock died.” Really? Tell that to the Beatles and the Stones, you stupid asshole! [Laughs.]